RINGGOLD, Ga. -- It's been quite a six days for Slade Dale, undoubtedly the most important week of his young life and a time period that helps explain why the Ringgold High School senior two-sport star will go down as one of the most popular and successful athletes in school history.
The week began last Friday when Dale had the game of his life -- at least on the football field -- with seven combined touchdowns in a crazy 55-54 Class AAA playoff win over North Hall. The victory was the first postseason win for a program that goes back to the 1930s.
Rare as it was, few connected to the Ringgold program were surprised. You see, Slade Dale predicted five months ago it would happen and when Dale talks, well, you have no choice but to listen.
"What can you say about Slade that hasn't already been said?" asked Ringgold football coach Robert Akins. "He's just a natural-born leader and the ultimate competitor. Competition is what makes him tick. The higher the competition level the more focused he gets and the more determined he gets. You're seeing it right now in the playoffs -- the bigger the game the better he is.
"He believed back in the summer we were going to win a playoff game, so I guess he knew what he was talking about."
Dale's efforts in the historic win, which included 220 passing yards and 164 more on the ground, earned him national attention after being featured in USA Today as the American Family Insurance All USA performance of the week. It gets better. Fast forward to Wednesday and there was Dale signing scholarship papers to attend the University of Georgia, where the elite shortstop will play baseball.
When he graduates in May it's very likely Dale, who has also helped the Tigers to two baseball state championship appearances, will go down as the most accomplished athlete in school history. Surely that's how any elite athlete would want to be remembered, right? Well, not exactly.
"I hope to be remembered as making people smile, even when the times are tough and things are serious," Dale said. "I love to make people smile, so that's the way I want to be remembered."
And those memories are just as strong to the Tiger family, like the first time baseball coach Brent Tucker saw him as a freshman.
"One of the first things that comes to mind was the mohawk," Tucker laughed. "Here comes this little freshman with a mohawk haircut, so we knew he was a little different. What I've learned since is that Slade's going to have fun, but as soon as the lights come on there's a different story for those next few hours."
It was also as a freshman that the Dale residence was destroyed during that April's tornado outbreak, but when asked to recount what had to be a horrific experience, Dale's first reply was, "Oh, everything's cool."
That attitude has endeared him to his fellow students, coaches, fans and even competitors. North Murray head coach David Gann, Ringgold's offensive coordinator during Dale's first two seasons, calls Dale, "As good a high school player I've ever been around and just a tremendous athlete and leader. I've known him since middle school, and if there's one thing I can say about Slade it's that there is no doubt he thinks he's going to win at whatever he's doing."
Making his football exploits even more remarkable -- he has 2,850 yards of total offense and 36 touchdowns -- is the fact that baseball is Dale's main focus from January until football training camp starts. He plays in the elite East Cobb baseball league, leaving little to no time to prepare for football. It's something Akins is blown away about.
"It's like he can flip a switch, but one thing that always remains constant about Slade is his competitiveness," Akins said. "It's a natural thing and I wish I could say we helped him get to that level of competitiveness, but he's always had it. I saw him play in middle school, and I knew right then he had some things you can't coach. When we had to throw him in there as a freshman he competed his tail off and never backed down.
"He's cool, calm and collected, and his personality is laid back and free-spirited. I hate to compare him to Johnny Manziel as a person because I don't know Johnny Manziel, but on the field that's who he reminds me of."
Cool or not, surely all this added attention and pressure to keep the magical season going will surely start to affect Slade Dale on Friday night when the 9-2 Tigers host Cedar Grove in the second round. Not a chance he says. In fact, get to the game early and you'll see the quarterback and his mates doing their pre-game routine.
"Me and a couple of other guys will start dancing around during pre-game and try to have some fun," Dale says, perhaps also explaining just what makes the young man tick. "I mean, this game is fun and you've got to live in the moment and enjoy it."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...